Whether it’s albies torpedoing out of the water, or Spanish mackerel skipping along the surface, our Atlantic inshore waters are loaded with some exotic guests from late summer into early fall.
But besides along our immediate coastlines, I’ve been noticing more and more “guests” inside of our Northeast inlets and breachways, a telltale sign that it is time to whip out that light tackle, 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders, and small jigs to get ready for some drag burning runs.
My first encounter with the blitzing footballs this year was while fluking, but by the time I got my jig far enough from the sticky bottom so that I could cast an epoxy towards the school, it was already too late. In addition to albies, many smaller bluefin have been feeding mixed in, which is what has motivated me even more to figure out these smart fish.
The speed of these fish, especially the false albacore, make them such a blast to target, but their speed is also what makes them a challenge. Feeding one second and gone the next, they leave anglers two options: hunt them down, or wait for them to return. I often search areas with strong and especially turbulent, currents, where baitfish like peanut bunker often find themselves disoriented and congregated. Inlets or breachways are such hotspots because they act as a funnel for baitfish and the predators using the disorienting currents to their advantage. These are the situations where I will fish a wide range of different color and size epoxy-style jigs to mimic the specific bait that the fish are eating.
I like a quick retrieve, testing different speeds to see what works best, and when the jig is going through feeding fish, I even slow the retrieve and try to input more erratic action with the rod tip. By leaving the jig more time in the strike zone, I’ve noticed many more albies have an opportunity to find your jig because with so much bait it can be difficult with too quick of a retrieve.
As nice as it would be for the albies to always be where they should be, they often aren’t, and on days where they don’t seem to be in the inlet or on pods of bait out front there is one other technique that knows how to work. Local inshore reefs or snags hold an abundance of life both bait and boats, and in some areas you may find head boats actively chumming for blues. This feeding frenzy that gets stirred up attracts all sorts of life, including false albacore. While you don’t want to interfere with what these folks are doing, working downcurrent along the outer edges while casting or vertically jigging with resin or epoxy jigs, even small metals on light leaders, will produce a speedster or two.
I’ll also throw small 1/4-ounce chrome Spro bucktails and snap jig them from the bottom. I have noticed that snap jigging works great after fish have surfaced and all the boats are driving on top of each other to chase them. Instead of risking a boating accident, I just stay where they were and jig for a bit and often they return to pick up their scraps.
I prefer to stay in depth ranges where fish are being marked if possible, but generally the fish will stay around the chumslicks due to the amount of congregated amount of life. The next few weeks will provide a great opportunity to fish light for the speedsters. And since you may find yourself stumbling into a surprise bluefin just make sure you have your Highly Migratory Species permit (hmspermits.noaa.gov) for your boat.
This interesting mix of fish make the challenge more exciting, and developing an understanding of where baitfish are often stacked or disoriented can make the waiting period for striper much more tolerable!